2018 in Review – Going Greener!

By Steve Schaefer

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My Bolt EV hit 20,000 miles of trouble-free driving.

For me, 2018 was a busy year for auto writing, and also for climate action.

In a normal year, I’d have 52 week-long test drives, a bunch of short tests at the annual Western Automotive Journalists event, and maybe catch a few more at some manufacturer’s event, too.

This year, I tested only 28 cars for a week each instead of 52. I did have some quick sample drives at the WAJ event–mostly EVs. The biggest change has been my moving away from gasoline-only cars over the last couple of years, and stopping my testing of them entirely in September.

When I wasn’t testing a car, I was driving my own all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV. My Bolt EV just turned over 20,000 miles, and with 10K/year on my lease, that’s perfect. Its two-year anniversary is January 8th. Maybe I’ll take it to the dealership for a check-up, since it’s never been back!

Why the the complete end of ICE cars? That’s because on August 28-30, I attended Al Gore’s three-day Climate Reality Leadership Training in Los Angeles, where I became a Climate Reality Leader. As an electric car advocate and now, a climate activist, I have to put my efforts towards guiding people to what’s most important for the long-term health of the planet. And, I want to explore and provide guidance about all the great new EVs that are coming in the next few years. We know that petroleum-fueled cars will not disappear overnight, but there are lots of other fine journalists who can take care of reviewing them.

Most of my auto writing, since it’s green cars only, is happily housed these days on www.cleanfleetreport.com, but I also run stories regularly in my original venue, the San Leandro Times (my first story appeared on February 8, 1992), as well as monthly in the Tri-City Voice out of Fremont, California.

Steve Goes Green may have been home to fewer car reviews in 2018, but it has featured some new material on “going green” in other ways. Some stories came from attending talks at Acterra, a Palo Alto based organization that’s educating people and acting to fight climate change. See recent stories, such as Teaching Kids about Climate Change with Green Ninja and Ertharin Cousin – We Need a Food System for Human and Planetary Health.

Of the 28 cars I tested this year, only seven had no electric motor, and they were all in the first 2/3 of the year. Naturally, with the limitation I’ve set, I can’t and won’t review everything, but that’s OK. Many of the best, most efficient gas-burners are featured on Clean Fleet Report, so it’s worth checking them out there.

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The most unusual EV this year was a 1967 MGB GT that a work colleague spent a year convering into a pure EV. The most exciting EV was the Jaguar i-Pace, which was an all-new crossover from a brand that’s looking toward the future. I expect lots of new models and electrified versions of current cars to appear in the next couple of years.

In September, I planned and hosted the second National Drive Electric Week (NDEW) event at my company. I also attended the Acterra NDEW event and it was very busy! I let people drive my Bolt EV there, and I hope that experience led some of them to go out and get their own EVs.

The NDEW event is an important way for people to learn about EVs directly from owners, not salespeople, and it’s fun for us EV owners to collaborate and share stories. In 2019, the first ever DEED (Drive Electric Earth Day) will take place, presented by the same folks who do the NDEW, and I plan to participate at work and elsewhere.

In October, I attended one day of the three-day VERGE conference in Oakland, which is put on annually by GreenBiz as a coming together of green businesses. There are lots of them, and my busy day generated three stories (two published, one on deck). Here’s a general article on the day itself, and another on what GM is doing to purchase clean power for its plants. I look forward to attending events in 2019 and writing more of those kinds of articles.

Clean Fleet Report gave me lots of quick news assignments over the year–26 were published–which brought my annual story total to around what I’m used to. These are quick takes based on press releases and other information. See my story on a new VW-based electric Meyers Manx. I also contributed stories on different subjects from personal journalist experiences, such as my visit to the Manheim Auto Auction.

In November and December, I spoke with four solar companies, and a few weeks ago, signed up for solar panels on my roof! They’ll go on in April, and when they do, I’ll start charging my car at home. I’ll report more about my solar adventure right here.

2019 will have more EVs and more ways to go green! I plan to learn more about the way our food system affects the climate–from reading, studying, and interviewing folks, and also by slowly changing how I eat.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!

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Going Green at the 2017 WAJ Media Days

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Every spring for the last 25 years, the Western Automotive Journalists (WAJ) has brought together its journalist members and manufacturers (and their cars) at a scenic location with a racetrack. The goal is to evaluate a variety of cars on the road and the racetrack, network, have fun, and get a good story, too.

As I have for almost every year since the first event back in 1993, I attended with anticipation. And, as I have for at least the last dozen years, I roomed at the hotel with my buddies Jon and Carey. However, as I’m increasing my focus on green vehicles, I tried to concentrate my energy on environmentally responsible options.

I Drove my All-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV to the Event

For the first time ever, I drove my own car to the event. My 105-mile trip to Monterey, California was in my own Chevrolet Bolt EV. With my two pals in tow, what could be more environmentally sensitive than to carpool in an all-electric vehicle? It kept one old gas car and one motorcycle off the highway entirely.

The Bolt EV is a roomy compact hatchback, and it fit us and our gear without a problem when I folded down one of the rear seats.

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Always interested in checking the accuracy of the car’s range, I took before and after photos of my instrument panel.

In my driveway, it looked like this, with 251 miles of estimated range (about the best it’s ever looked, by the way):

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When we pulled into the hotel, it looked like this:

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The 105-mile trip lowered my estimated range by 113 miles–pretty nice for an all-freeway trip at 65-70 miles per hour. And, of course, the ride was smooth and quiet all the way. We had similar mileage on the return trip.

PG&E’s New Plugin Electric Hybrid Charging Trucks

138 miles should allow a return trip without a recharge, but that would be cutting it close. And, I planned to drive out to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and back, too. So, I was very fortunate to get to use PG&E’s new portable charging truck to top off my battery the night I arrived.

These amazing new trucks are completely self contained and can charge multiple vehicles at a time. The one I used was the smaller one, which required setting up charging stations, but the larger, 19,000-pound model we used at the event locations had direct cables from the truck to the vehicle, and included quick-charge capacity. The trucks, which themselves are Diesel/electric hybrids, will save a lot of energy as they’re used for their normal duties (see below), and with their onboard generator, can power up vehicles that need it. Here’s the smaller truck I used at the Monterey Tides hotel:

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Note the charging bollard standing there. The orange item is a grounding sheet that Jim Larson of PG&E installed underneath it.

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Here’s the control panel.

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At the racetrack, the trucks charged multiple cars at a time. Here the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan (the only one on the market!) and a Chevrolet Bolt EV get charged up.

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Here are more details from PG&E’s press release about these fantastic new trucks:

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and Efficient Drivetrains Incorporated (EDI) will showcase the utility industry’s first plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) drivetrain Class 5 work bucket truck featuring 120kW exportable power that can be used to shorten or eliminate planned and unplanned outages.

PG&E partnered with EDI and Dixon-based Altec Industries, to develop this vehicle, which was designed, built and tested in the heart of California at EDI’s plant in Dixon. The vehicle features up to 50 miles all-electric range before switching to hybrid mode and 120kW exportable power, capable of powering 80% of the transformers in PG&E’s service area. The truck also features Altec’s electric worksite management system, which allows all onboard equipment including the boom, climate control and tools to be operated off of battery power, eliminating the need to idle the engines of the trucks while at job sites. These vehicles will reduce emissions by up to 80% when compared to conventional fuel vehicles.  PG&E estimates that each EDI truck will save the utility over 850 gallons of fuel per year. PG&E has deployed this technology in class 3, 5 and 6 platforms and currently operates 12 of the units.

I Drove Two Hydrogen-powered EVs Back to Back

Eager to start out green, I drove the two hydrogen cars right away–the Toyota Mirai and the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell. The third hydrogen vehicle on the market, Hyundai’s Tucson, wasn’t there, but these two midsize sedans represent the bulk of today’s very small segment, and are quite similar. Both feature weird styling, hundreds of miles of range, a reasonable lease price, and an undramatic driving experience. They feel like Toyota and Honda versions of the same car.

I drove the Mirai first. I had spent an hour with this vehicle before, driving a limited course in residential San Francisco. I was eager to get it out onto the highway and let it loose a little. The Mirai was introduced in 2014, while the Clarity goes back to 2008. However, this second-generation Clarity came out just a few months ago.

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The Mirai wears exaggerated versions of Toyota’s current styling elements. The front scoops help direct lots of cool air to the components under the hood that convert hydrogen to energy (and water) and the electric motor. The tail of the car is somewhat sad looking. However, the interior, featuring the sweeping panels seen also on the Camry and Prius, feels more conventional.

The Mirai runs quietly, but unlike battery-powered EVs, lacks the wealth of torque you’d expect, so performance is leisurely. But the main story here, as in the Clarity, is that the technology is futuristic but the driving experience is ordinary. Maybe that’s a good thing.

The new second-generation Clarity, my second ride of the day, is also an odd-looking beast.

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The giant scoops up front, sliced semi-skirted rear wheels, and overstyled tail continue the hydrogen car strangeness. But–this car does look like a Honda, so maybe the assumption is that both of these cars reflect “the future” of their respective brands, like vehicles in a movie set in 2035.

As in the Mirai, the interior is less strange than the exterior. My main memory is of artificial plastic wood trim and alcantara on the dash and soft seating. Nothing else really stood out.

Both test cars had more than 200 miles of range on the odometer when I drove them. Range isn’t as much as an issue with hydrogen cars, since you can fill them up and drive like a gas car, and they can have 300 or more miles of range on a five-minute fill-up. The issue is finding a place to do it. There are very few hydrogen stations in California right now. If the infrastructure isn’t built out, it will likely remain a very marginal technology.

You can help promote  this new technology by leasing one these cars. Toyota’s deal is $349 a month with three years worth of free fuel. You also can buy the car for $57,500. The Clarity leases for $369 a month; there’s no purchase option. They also have a free fuel offer.

There are many differences between these two cars, and I’d like to cover them in a separate article. The bottom line is, you can drive either for essentially $350 a month total–and be part of the future.

Chrysler Pacifica is the Only Hybrid Minivan you can Buy

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I got a chance to spend 20 minutes or so driving and riding in the new Pacific hybrid minivan. While I’ve tested the regular model recently (full story soon for my newspapers and websites), this one provides more than 30 miles of pure EV driving. As a new model, it’s really nice to drive in any case, but with electric power, it’s much more efficient–and, of course, quieter. It climbed the hills of the Laureles Grade test run without getting breathless, although the engine did have to chime in to get it done. I’m looking forward to a week-long test soon, and that story will appear here in stevegoesgreen.com.

Zero Motorcycles – Green on Two Wheels

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I am not a motorcycle rider, but I spent time talking with three of the friendly and knowledgeable people from Zero Motorcycles, purveyors of electric two-wheeled transportation. I also heard a presentation from the company’s new CEO.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to test one–I don’t have a motorcycle license, and even off the street, you needed one to ride. I’ve always thought that part of the “fun” of driving a motorcycle was the sound, and watching other journalists test these gave an eerie sense of somehow not having the soundtrack on. But not only are these bikes apparently great fun, but they are a lot more comfortable without the vibration. The company builds a portfolio of models for different purposes in a range of prices, so best to check out their website for details. I’m half tempted to get my M1 license so I can give one a test ride.

Automotive Steel is Evolving for Efficiency

At the formal dinner on the evening of Day 2, our keynote speaker was Dave Anderson, Senior Director – Automotive Market from the Steel Market Development Institute. Dave told us about modern steel and how it’s changed over the years in automotive applications. I learned a lot. We hear a lot about “high strength” steel these days, but what does it all mean? Apparently there are hundreds of kinds of steel, and depending on its chemical makeup and processing, it can be extremely strong or very flexible–or possess other qualities, as needed. Making auto components out of different types can reduce weight while enhancing safety. Although the steel industry is smaller in the U.S. than it was years ago, It’s still a big factor in automotive industry–and the SMDI wants to keep it that way.

The Rest of the Cars

With dozens of cars available, I had to sample some others, and I did burn some petroleum doing it.

The Jaguar F-Pace is the brand’s first crossover SUV, and it was impressive and powerful.

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On the other side of the equation, the Toyota CH-R, originally meant to be a Scion, was small and quirky on the outside and drove like a nice small Toyota should.

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One of the hits of the day was the Alfa-Romeo Guilia, in powerhouse Quadrifoglia form. Out on the Monterey County back roads, it was a force, and many of my colleagues got to ride in it on the racetrack.

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I drove the unusual topless Range Rover Evoque convertible on an offroad course. Concentrating on moving slowly and deliberately over the uneven terrain was a nice palate cleanser from driving on the highway.

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I sampled the new, larger MINI Countryman, and it still felt like a MINI–but more luxurious. There’s a plugin hybrid version coming later this year that I’m eager to spend time with.

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A quick run over the hills in the sleek new Volvo V90 was a nice contrast to the MINI. Volvo has its act together, with premium amenities and beautiful styling. This is a wagon version of the new S90 sedan, which I recently tested.

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I found the new Honda Civic hatchback with a six-speed manual and had to take that one for a spin to row the gears. Although much larger than my 1986 Civic Si hatchback, it felt more like those old, fun Hondas of yesteryear. And it was white on the outside and black on the inside–just like my old ride. Note the gorgeous well-watered springtime countryside.

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I tested two Infinitis–the potent and luxurious Q60 coupe and the small, Mercedes-Benz-based QX30 crossover. The former was perhaps the best-looking iteration of Infiniti’s molten styling I’ve seen so far, and the silvery carbon fiber interior trim and white seats were a knockout. The little QX30 felt taut and fun during my brief ride.

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QX30

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Two compact crossovers that have been thoroughly updated got my attention–the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. These direct competitors show why this segment is taking over from sedans. Solid, attractive, and relatively efficient, they were both steps up from their predecessors.

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Mazda CX-5

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Lastly, I experienced the Navdy Augmented Driving device in an Audi Q7. This little marvel sits atop your instrument panel and provides a wealth of information and options through a head-up device.

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Controlled by a little wheel and button attached to the steering wheel, I could make phone calls, see map directions, read text messages, make musical selections, and much more. Easy to install, the unit attaches magnetically to its base, so you can tuck it away in a little cloth bag in your glove compartment when you park. The goal is to keep you connected without taking your eyes off the road.

Not Driven but Important

I didn’t drive it (mine is identical except for color), but the white Chevrolet Bolt EV went out a lot, and I talked with folks after they drove it to get their reactions.

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As always, the chance to meet and mingle with my old friends and our longtime and new automotive PR colleagues was invaluable. I look forward to following up my new relationships and taking some of the vehicles for week-long evaluations.

Terry Page, Founder of Page One Automotive — 1950-2017

Terry Page, the man who founded and managed Page One Automotive, passed away last Saturday, way too soon. This gentleman, who changed the way manufacturers distribute their cars to journalists like me, was always kind, classy, and welcome. His personal support and guidance helped establish the Western Automotive Journalists (WAJ), which is celebrating a quarter century of bringing car writers together in Northern California.

I remember first working with Terry back in 1993. I was helping him plan out a drive route for the WAJ Media Days event in Marin County in the beautiful back roads. It was a lovely day, and we were driving a red 1994 Nissan 240SX.

This man, and the many people who worked for him over the years, are always a huge presence at the annual WAJ Media Days event. We’ll miss Terry a lot at this year’s event, but I know that the experts who manage and work for Page One will continue the very high level of quality that we’ve all become used to.

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be an auto writer without Terry and his organization. Of the 1,200 cars I’ve gratefully tested since 1992, more than half were from his fleet.

Page One is a model of efficiency, courtesy, and frankly, magic. They help you plan a schedule of weekly test cars, deliver them clean and full of gas, and then pick them up or bring another a week later. They are adept at managing complex events, too. This model is worlds better than the situation before, when journalists were on their own, working directly with manufacturers. I owe much of my ability to write and enjoyment of this privilege to Page One and Terry Page.

It’s been a long association. Here’s me with my first car from Page One, a 1992 Chevrolet Lumina LTZ, in March of 1992.

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Here’s my most recent Page One car loan, a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, which I turned back to them this morning.

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Goodbye, old friend.